This Day In London’s History
1962: The first ‘Panda crossing’ is opened on York Road, opposite Waterloo Station.
Since the 1930s, pedestrian crossings in Britain were marked by poles bearing orange glass domes known as ’Belisha beacons’ (named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of Transport at the time). Traffic approaching these crossings was required to stop and give way to any pedestrians who were waiting to cross the road.
At around the same time, a number of experiments were carried out into using ‘signalled crossings’ to try to make pedestrian crossings safer. Instead of relying on traffic to spot pedestrians and stop for them as required, the pedestrians could press a button to activate a signal that would compel the traffic to stop. Quite a few examples of these early signalled crossings were installed in Croydon in an attempt to reduce pedestrian casualties on the busy A23. However a perception that signalled crossings were expensive and excessively disruptive to traffic led to a widespread lack of enthusiasm for their adoption. The Ministry of Transport concluded that the tried-and-tested approach of installing simple ‘non-signalled’ crossings that required traffic to voluntarily stop for pedestrians would work well enough and prove to be reasonably inexpensive. Apart from a few upgrades in the 50s, where the ‘Zebra crossing’ was born when thick white stripes were painted on the road to improve the crossings’ visibility, the format of pedestrian crossings remained largely unchanged for several decades.
By the 1960s however, the Ministry of Transport had been re-assessing their position on signalled crossings, spurred on by increasing volumes of traffic, and had compiled a shopping list of features that they wanted to see implemented by a ‘hybrid’ crossing – one that would hopefully combine the best features of a Zebra crossing and a signalled crossing. This shopping list was then implemented fully by a new type of crossing, which would be highly visible and use black and white stripes and Belisha beacons like a Zebra crossing, but would also use signals to stop the traffic and give instructions to pedestrians. And so the ‘Panda crossing’ was born – the first one was opened by the Transport Minister, Ernest Marples, on York road opposite Waterloo station on 2nd April 1962.
And the result? By all accounts the Panda crossing was a complete failure. It may have implemented all of the Ministry of Transport’s requirements, but it was absurdly complicated and confusing. Different combinations and frequencies of both flashing and pulsating coloured lights were intended to give traffic and pedestrians detailed information, but in practice they only caused confusion and chaos. Nonetheless, despite widespread public irritation, Panda crossings were rolled out elsewhere in the country for the next few years, until they were unceremoniously scrapped in 1967.
Panda crossings were succeeded by the less disastrous, but still far-from-ideal ‘X-way’ crossing in 1967, then the now-familiar ‘Pelican crossings’ in 1969.
Check out Chris’s British Road Directory website for much more detail on this sort of stuff.
Londoner Of The Week
13-year old Effie, the “Kate Moss of gorillas”, caught our attention at the end of last week. It’s always good to see the supermodel profession crossing the species barrier.
One Thing You Must Do In London This Week
This week (well until Easter Monday) is your last chance to visit the ‘Triumph of Eros: Art and Seduction in 18th Century France’ exhibition at the Somerset House Hermitage Rooms, which promises to “offer a sumptuous visual experience uncovering the complex language of eroticism in the fine and decorative arts”. This is classy stuff, but surprisingly racy too – to quote the general blurb:
… images of love and seduction are laced with moralising meanings about the dangers of unbridled passion, giving a certain licence to images that pushed the limits of decorum and taste. However, the exhibition also probes the ways in which the erotic in 18th century French art could easily slip over into the pornographic, the decent into the indecent. Works of art by Lancret, Nattier and Fragonard, have been chosen to explore the nature of disorderly passion, voyeurism and sexual licence, pushing at the boundaries of what was, and perhaps still is, deemed aesthetically acceptable.
Lots more info here.